The Latter Epistles – 1 John 4

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.  This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.  They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.  We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us.  This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit.  And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.  If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.  And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.  This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.  There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
We love because he first loved us.  Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.  For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.  And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

  • 1 John 4:1-21

Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments

1 John 4:1-6 ‘testing the spirits’: “The believer must test the spirits (4:1-6), and this passage applies the theological (doctrinal) test to discern between truth and error.  John commands his beloved readers to stop believing that every person is inspired by a spirit of truth (v. 1).  Instead they must constantly test to determine if spirits derive from God.  Testing is necessary because many false prophets (antichrists, 2:18; 4:3; 2 Pet. 1:21-2:1) departed into the evil world (2:15-19).  The test that believers must apply is to examine a person’s creed (4:2-3); Does the prophet confess that Jesus as Christ has become and remains incarnate (2:22)?  This ongoing confession is acknowledgment not of doctrine but of Christ’s identity and faith in him.  Verse 3 reinforces verse 2.  The false spirit is he who does not acknowledge Jesus (‘as Christ … come in the flesh’ [v. 2]).  Such a person belongs not to God but to Antichrist (2:18; 2 John 7).  Believers have heard and remember the warning about his coming, but he is in the evil world already (2:15ff.; 3:1, 13), inspiring false prophets (2 Thess. 2:3-8).”

  • Walter A. Elwell, editor, Baker Commentary on the Bible

1 John 4:1-6 ‘The demonic source of false doctrine’: “John turns from the importance of love to the importance of belief in God’s truth.  He focuses, once again, on the doctrinal test and emphasizes the need to obey sound teaching (Matt. 24:11; 2 Pet. 2:2, 3; Jude 3).  Scripture presents stern warnings against false doctrine.  Ever since his temptation of Eve, Satan has sought to distort and deny God’s Word (Gen 3:1-5_.  He is the ultimate demonic source behind all false teachers and false doctrine (2 Cor. 11:13, 14).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary

1 John 4:4 ‘Satan’s limitations’: “Satan has no power except that which God gives him.
“To the first-century church in Smyrna, Christ said, ‘Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.  I teel you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer for ten days.  But be faithful, even if you have to die, and I will give you the crown of life’ (Revelation 2:10).
“Analyze Jesus’ words for a minute.  Christ informs the church of the persecution, the duration of the persecution (ten days), the reason for the persecution (to test you), and the outcome of the persecution (a crown of life).  In other words, Jesus uses Satan to fortify the church.
“Even when [Satan] appears to win, he loses.”

  • Max Lucado, The Great House of God

1 John 4:10 ‘Love consists …’: “It is the greatest marvel that ever will be – that he who is God over all stooped so low as this.  I can understand his stooping to poverty and being a carpenter.  I can understand his stooping to hunger and thirst.  I can even understand his stooping to death.  But that he should bear our sins – this is the greatest stoop of all.  How must the Lord Jesus have loved us that he did not disdain to hear even the enormous burden of our sin?”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

1 John 4:14-15 ‘the Trinity’: “Lady Julian (of Norwich) saw that heaven will be heaven because the Trinity will fill our hearts with ‘joy without end,’ for the Trinity is God and God is the Trinity.  The Trinity is our Maker and Keeper, and the Trinity is our everlasting love and everlasting joy and bliss.
“All these things marked Jesus Christ, and, as Julian said, ‘where Jesus appeareth the blessed Trinity is understood.’  We must get into our heads and hearts that Jesus Christ is the full, complete manifestation of the Trinity: ‘He that hath seen me hath seen the Father’ (John 14:9).  He set forth the glory of the Triune God, all the God there is!  Where Jesus appears, God is.  And where Jesus is glorified, God is.
“I wouldn’t quote anybody unless there were Scripture to confirm it, and Scripture does indeed confirm that the Trinity will fill our hearts. ‘No man hath seen God at any time.  If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.  Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit’ (1 John 4:12-13).  There you have the Father and the Spirit.  ‘And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.  Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God’ (4:14-15).  There you have the Father and the Son, or the Trinity.”

  • A. W. Tozer, The Attributes of God I

1 John 4:18 ‘no fear’: “First of all, love is the principle of good will.  The angels sang, ‘good will toward men’ (Luke 2:14).  Love always wills the good of its object and never wills any harm to its object.  If you love somebody, really love him, you’ll want to be good to him and to do good to him.  You’ll never want any harm to come to him if you can help it.  That’s why John says, ‘There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear.’  If I know a man loves me, I’m not afraid of him.  If I’m not sure he does, I may be a bit cagey around him.  Love casts out fear, for when we know we are loved, we are not afraid.  Whoever has God’s perfect love, fear is gone out of the universe for him.
“All real fear goes when we know that God loves us, because fear comes when we’re in the hands of someone who does not will our good.  A little boy lost in a department store will stand in a paroxysm of hysterical fear; people’s faces are strange, even those who want to be kind.  The child is afraid that he may be in the hands of somebody who wills him harm.  But when he sees the familiar face of his mother, he runs sobbing to her and climbs into her arms.  He’s never afraid in the hands of his mother, because experience has taught him that Mother wills his good.  Perfect love casts out his fear.  When the mother is not there, fear fills the little child’s heart, but Mother’s kind, smiling, eager face drives out fear.”

  • A. W. Tozer, A Love Worth Giving

1 John 4:19 ‘God first loved us’: “Love is the cause of love.  We love second and after him because he loved first and before us.  He loved us when we could not have been worse or further from him than we were.  What love is this that shone on us when we were the serfs and slaves of Satan, the dishwashers in the kitchen of iniquity?”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

1 John 4:19-21 ‘Jesus showed love by healing’: “It’s the same kind of love Jesus demonstrated when He reached out to the lepers, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the poor, and when He forgave those who pounded the nails into His hands and feet, as well as the crowds who jeered Him in His dying moments.  This is why John writes: We love because he first loved us.  If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.  And he has given us this command:  Whoever loves God must also love his brother (4:19-21).”

  • Ray C. Stedman, Adventuring through the Bible

My Thoughts

I have heard and read about all the “prophets” who had seen a sign from Heaven and Trump was going to win the election.  Maybe he won and the election was rigged, but the point is, the other candidate is sitting in the White House right now.  Some of those “prophets” were either lying or the “spirit” that gave them the information was lying.

Then again, as I have said many times, follow the money.  Does someone have something to gain by saying one thing or another?  The prosperity gospel people may not make millionaires out of the people in their congregation, but when they say that you need to give more to get more, they become millionaires.  Sometimes faith healing only seems to work when “seed” money is given.  And these people are quoting Scripture (maybe out of context) and telling a story that sounds true, but if we examine the “spirit” – either what the “spirit” was supposed to have said or what the human actually said, we may find the falsehood in what was being said.

But too many people rely on their pastor to interpret Scripture for them, and it could be the pastor who is the false prophet.  We need to study the Bible ourselves.  As I am typing this, I have 6-7 Bible commentaries within arm’s reach, and four study Bibles with a pastor’s commentary in the margins.  Not everyone has that kind of a library, but we must at least have a Bible that we have read thoroughly.  Then, we can examine friends who have also read the Bible.  Maybe they have one or two commentaries.  If you are reading this, you have an internet connection.  The internet has a few Bible search engines for key word searches and such.

We have the tools for careful examination, but nothing replaces studying the Bible ourselves and relying upon the Holy Spirit for guidance.  In case you did not catch that in 1 John 4, the Holy Spirit is the one within you who is greater than any power on earth.  There will always be antichrists in each age, and most, if not all, are smooth talkers.  And maybe the Antichrist (with a capital “A”) is out there somewhere, biding his/her time to take over the world.  There are many who want to do so – a one world government with them in charge.

Then in the third paragraph, 1 John 4:7, the Apostle John shifts gears to the subject of love.  It is another of the many tests.  If you cannot love, you do not have Jesus in your heart.  If you cannot love your brother who you can see, you cannot love God who you cannot see.

This seems awfully harsh.  What if your brother was Hitler?  What if your brother was a serial killer?  What if your brother led people as a false prophet into the worship of Satan?  You could hate your brother, or you could pray that your brother is redeemed.  Since the Scriptures says “brother,” I have stuck to the male gender, but this could apply to anyone.  In loving your brother, I would not suggest standing in the way of the local authorities who have a signed warrant for his arrest, but you can still counsel your brother.  If he absolutely refuses to listen and is belligerent, attacking any talk about God, you may have to pray for him from afar.  They may create the toxicity that they blame on Christianity, but they can never prevent your prayers.  And if you are truly praying for them, can it still be possible to hold ill will against them?

And I have seen Christian volunteers help those who have lost their homes or the power to their homes and who spit upon the volunteers, jeering them.  But the volunteers seem to understand even in persecution, because the people that they are helping are hurting, and when they come to their senses later on, they may realize that the volunteers did not cause the problem, only there to help them.

Yes, it is not easy, loving the hateful brother or the hateful people that you are there to help.  But I do not see where the Apostle John says anything about loving only if they love you back.  In fact, John stated that God first loved us.  When you add what the Apostle Paul said in Romans, God loved us while we were sinners.  That is what John is saying about God loving us first.  God loved us while we were sinners – before we were saved – and it took that salvation for us to come to the point where we loved God back.  By then, we were already cleansed by the precious blood of Jesus.

And have you gotten a glimpse of the manner of that love?  We are to love as Jesus loved us.  What did Jesus say about the love that He offered?  There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for his friends.

To love like Jesus, we must sacrifice of ourselves, maybe to the point of death.  If we do not feel the pain way down deep, we just are not doing enough.  If both partners in a marriage did that, we would have a lot less failed marriages.  My wife had the eastern culture impressed upon her, and she, being the eldest daughter and second eldest among nine children, took care of her younger siblings from an early age.  The next girl in line, number six, hated it when my wife (long before we met) joined the Air Force and moved out of the house.  She then had to pick up where my wife left off, but by then her younger sisters were fairly self-sufficient, and less work was needed.  After we got married, my wife, without ever being asked, started taking care of me and then the boys.  It was only natural for me to let her do so, since she seemed to enjoy it, but I did the things that she did not like doing.  There was some semblance of balance.  And now that her health is failing, the household dynamic is totally reversed.  She refuses to give up cooking and preparing the menu.  It gives her the idea that she is still contributing.  When we were young, she sacrificed.  When we got older, it has become my turn.  Some days, you wonder where the strength comes from, but you should not wonder.  The strength comes from God.

And John ends this chapter by mentioning that there is no fear in loving God.  The fear mentioned here is like how A. W. Tozer describes it above.  In knowing God and that God would never hurt us, we do not need to fear God.  But from the awe of being in His presence, there is a spiritual fear of the Lord.  The Glory of God will cause us to shake in our boots until Jesus approaches us and gives us a bear hug, calling us brother.

Some Serendipitous Reflections

“What helps you avoid both: (a) being close-minded to new insights, and (b) being so open-minded your brains fall out?  Give an example of (a) and (b).
“1. In your life, when has perfect fear cast out love?  When has God’s love cast out fear?
“2. How will you want put this sacrificial love into action this week: At home?  Work?  In a difficult relationship?  In planning your time?  Your budget?  In the activities you support?  Your political views and involvement?”

  • Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

1 John 4 is split into two discussion sessions in the Serenity Bible.  Thus, there an unnumbered question.

With the way that the Serendipity Bible described the (b) option in the unnumbered question, it does not sound appealing, but work past that.  And do we need to avoid both extremes?

If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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